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Section 7: Contemporary Reviews - 1927


Poster issued for the original German release of Metropolis by Ufa on 10 January 1927.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis - the subject of much publicity in Germany during the period of filming (1925-6) - was widely reviewed following its Berlin premiere at the Ufa Palast am Zoo on the evening of 10 January 1927. Metropolis was a film which naturally drew comment, and further viewing, largely as a result of the many themes it attempted to address, and the ground-breaking nature of the filmmaking. It was an intellectual as well as a visual feast. This process of critical assessment continued with the re-release of edited versions in 1928 and 1936, and the issuing of modern restorations since 1972. The Georgio Moroder coloured and Pop-music enhanced edition of 1984 generated much comment in the media, while its straight-to-video release in a number of countries resulted in the film reaching a large international audience for the first time since its period of initial release during 1927-8.

A number of reviews of Metropolis dating from 1927 are reproduced below, whilst those associated with the film's initial screening in Australia during 1928 are to be found in Section 8. These contemporary reviews are significant in that, apart from revealing how the film was received by Lang's contemporaries, they also provide useful information on aspects of the making, editing, and screening of Metropolis. A common theme in many of the American and European reviews from 1927 is a stringent rejection of the idea that the 'heart' is needed to facilitate cooperation between capital and class, and thereby minimise exploitation. This completely rational idea was for some reason especially greeted with much disdain by commentators in the United States and Britain. Also, the idea that machines and technology could give rise to worker enslavement, rather than empowerment, was derided. These filmic themes went against the popular push for production-line efficiency and the promotion of Fordism, or Scientific Management, as an answer to the woes of the working classes. This new religion of modernisation promised workers higher wages, less drudgery in their work, and more free time for recreation. Of course, it proved to be a false dream. Also criticised was Metropolis' somewhat confused plot, the result initially of the director Fritz Lang trying to put too much into the film and attempting to reproduce in toto the many elements of Thea von Harbou's original script. This was made worse through subsequent editing by individuals other than the director (e.g. the Channing Pollock team in America), giving rise to many gaps in the narrative flow of the film as seen by audiences outside of Berlin. Reviews reproduced below include:

The H.G. Wells review is especially scathing of the film's content and narrative structure, and wasinfluential at the time. In many ways it is a 'silly' review in that it takes issue at the film's science-fiction failings, e.g. the use of 1926 era automobiles in a film which purports to represent the future. Wells does this in a rather quibbling manner, totally missing the point that such 'errors' are insignificant in regards to the film as a whole and its major themes. Buñuel is also critical of the film, though less so than Wells, and in a more eloquent manner. All the reviewers acknowledge the technical achievements of the film, and its spectacular nature. The comments by Randolph Bartlett are especially interesting, as he attempts to justify the cutting of the original German edition from 17 reels to 10 reels by the Channing Pollock team. Bartlett suggests the process is necessary in order to cater to an American audience. This is somewhat debatable, especially in regards to the complete deletion of the Hel sequence simply because 'Hel' in German means something entirely different to the same word in English, and as a result, "may cause the audiences to snigger", to quote Bartlett. Modern audiences and fans of the film can now only bemoan the fact that such a trivial reason was behind the savage editing of Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece. The reviews reproduced below are largely in English, and acknowledgement is made to George Vladar of Canada for translating some of the early German-language reviews of the film.


{Herbert Ihering, 'Der Metropolis (Vorbericht)', Berliner Börsen-Courier, Berlin, 11 January 1927. Early edition, p5 - preliminary report by Ihering, somewhat scathing in its comment with regards to the plot. English translation}

METROPOLIS: A great premiere - much applause by the audience for the director Fritz Lang, for the operator Karl Freund, for the actors Alfred Abel, Heinrich George, Brigitte Helm. As for the film ? No effort spared with brilliant technical detail wasted on a banal, no longer pertinent idea. The city of the future with the text of a bourgeois past.


{Herbert Ihering, 'Der Metropolis, Ufa-Palast am Zoo', Berliner Börsen-Courier, Berlin, 11 January 1927, Late edition, p2. Largely negative review of the film's narrative structure and themes. English translation}

Der Metropolisfilm, Ufa-Palast am Zoo

We went to this film with greatest expectations - details are indeed fascinating but the whole disappoints. Film in general, especially this one, can no longer be a question of technical know-how only. To-day we are capable of much, also Fritz Lang is very capable, but to make a film dealing with "Weltanschauung" (trans. note: the whole concept of our looking at / realizing things - i.e. universal serious concerns) without "Weltanschauung" cannot be realized no matter how clever.

Here we have the technical aspects of a city of the future with the trappings of a woman's magazine - an advanced world and simplistic singular fates; important social contrasts and then a mediator dealing with "Heart overcoming the brain" - the whole mixture of Georg Kaiser, Birh-Pfeiffer ("Sea, mountains and giants"), Alfred Döblin & Thea von Harbou, throwing in a legendary Maria, is simply too much. Workers and their bosses would be ideal material for filming even in the city of the future "Metropolis"; however here one connives and just stylises. Thea von Harbou has invented an impossible scenario burdened with too many motives. Fritz Lang then goes on from there and lets the frames fall where they may, now mediaeval dance of death, now its modern version. Sometimes inventive, sometimes inspiring, but never a basic whole.

Even the workers, never mind the machinery (Moloch!) are too stylised, and too much deals with cheap emotional effects. Simply terrible. A serious theme cruelly debased. The effects do not deal with serious points of view by themselves but only because the tricks of the film demand it. Finally the ending - weepy reconciliation of workers and employers - is just frightful.

It is difficult to judge harshly something which has taken years of extreme effort. But since the failure of "Metropolis" must not be blamed on the genre film itself, one must point out why this film effort had to end badly. Modern film and the reactionary romantic piffle of Thea von Harbou can have nothing in common. Had it not been for the acting skills of Alfred Abel as tycoon, Heinrich George as the leader of the workers, Brigitte Helm, a new talent in an impossible role, Fritz Rasp a much too contemporary "hard" modern detective, at loggerheads with the rest, we all would have been totally disappointed - but Klein-Rogge is given to false theatricals and Gustav Fröhlich, not without talent, is too uneven as the millionaire's son.


{Willy Haas, 'Metropolis', Film-Kurier, 9, 11 January 1927. Enthusiastic, though also somewhat disappointed review of the film following its premiere in Berlin on 10 January 1927. The following is an edited translation.}


Rumours were already circulating a year and a half ago that a marvel of film technology was in the works. And the reality surpasses even our wildest expectations. What has been achieved in this German film leaves all the American accomplishments in cinematography in the dust, and is unique in the history of cinema. Not only with regard to the artistic craftsmanship - in many scenes the technical aspects vanish behind the lyrical and symphonic images. The technology responds to the subtle wishes and touches of such an extraordinary master of the art of kinetic composition as Fritz Lang. Take, for example, Maria's escape through the catacombs, continually tracked by the spotlight cast by a small electrical flashlight - a mouse trapped by a minute, gliding spot of light; or the spectral strobes of light and eerie phantoms that skim across the screen, providing a visionary backdrop as Freder collapses and falls into a faint. This alone makes the weeks spent filming with sophisticated cameras well worth the effort. The list of these accomplishments goes on and on - for example, the wonderfully light, spirited tempo of Metropolis's visionary mise-en-scene, the airplanes smoothly swimming across the skies, the automobiles that practically hover in the air as they glide across huge steel girders - with this, the industry of luxury that has been cultivated to the point of silent discretion is heard in a refined voice. And so on.

I am sorting out the commendable aspects of the film. The massive scope - naturally above all the scale, if you will. Gigantic is hardly the word for it. One is rendered speechless. The spectacular set design of Ben Hur, for example, looks like a poor relation, a simple little production measured against such prodigious displays. The Tower of Babel is shown once in a quick episode, a moment surpassed architecturally twenty times over. No wonder that Jehovah became truly enraged and so confused the language spoken by the buildings's creators that they could no longer understand each other.

At this juncture it is only reluctantly that one decides to continue. Fritz Lang worked for over a year with superhuman energy and tenacity. The detailed technical work accomplished here is, in its scope alone, so absolutely astounding that I would not contradict someone who told me that this film has been five, six years in the making. In fact, it sounds unbelievable that this incredibly detailed, prodigious work was really accomplished within the span of a year or a year and a half - which is usually an enormous amount of time for a film. But this should not be the last or even the most decisive word on a film of such enormous scale and ostentation.

What may, indeed must, be expected when for a year and a half the following are mobilized: 36,000 extras, 1,100 extras with shorn heads, 750 children, 100 Negroes, 3,500 pairs of shoes,75 wigs, 50 futuristic automobiles, 500 to 600 seventy-story skyscrapers, a few thousand utopian internal-combustion engines, 2,034,120 feet of negative film and 4,265,091 feet of positive film and above all, above everything else, the intelligence of a director concentrated to a superhuman degree. Not much. Please do not laugh dear reader....

Taking well-measured doses of world history and mixing them together as allusion and allegory is not the way to do it; a bit of Christianity with its concept of mediator, the religious service in the catacombs, the holy mother Maria ("Let the children come unto me" - standing in for the absent son); a bit of socialism with its shiny new cult of the machine, the enslavement of the soulless proletariat, and the fully actualized "accumulation of capital", so to speak in Marxist terms, which makes a single human being the unseen master of the world; then throw in a dash of Nietzscheanism with the deification of the ruling class. Everything is so carefully blended together that any more cohesive idea slips past by a hair's breadth. And heaven forbid that the film should have any meaningful currency of ideas [....] But that is exactly the curse of the large-scale production, that is the reason why nine-tenths of the enormous set design of every such film seems empty and superfluous: because it is precisely the large-scale production, the spectacle, that carefully calculates its appeal to everyone, that avoids offending anyone, is evasive and gives plenty of nothing. For the philosopher or for the artist the plate is full; but the gourmet must resign himself to a small plate of hors d'oeuvres.

Everything else follows from the basic precept. The profound lack of inner form. Take a hyper-American, utopian, urban mechanism from, let's say, A.D. 3000 and put into that setting fragile, guileless souls, and artificially constructed femme machine ("Edison's Eve of the Future" by Villiers d'Isle Adam). But, still, there is not a single, creatively conceived, lifelike human being in this mechanized from which we are so removed in spirit. It has been projected so far into the future that its inner life, perhaps also its no less ludicrous physique, is completely incomprehensible to us, This is something Wells so often attempted to do, although also without any compelling creativity. And added to that once again is the romance of the medieval church - right in the midst of incredible dynamos, turbines, airplanes, and automobiles. But it is not just all of the above that makes every cultivated person who is sensitive to form nervous - it is symptomatic of something more objectionable. It is the noncommital attitude of belles-lettres that so desperately requires tomorrow and yesterday in order to escape from today. What sort of obscure humor is at work when, in the midst of this wild oscillation between a romantic yesterday and a romantic tomorrow, the barest trace of down-to-earth here and now pops up by coincidence? For example, the young hero reads a copy of Apokalypse that was published by the Avalon Press in Hellerau a few years ago. I could well imaging that one of these dead chess-piece figures indeed was able to read a book that I too have in my library.

The entire precision machinery of this calculated world comes to a standstill because it is not compatible with anything that reminds us of a real, tangible, distinct, and empirically grounded life ... because it simply is not life like, neither the life of yesterday nor of tomorrow; real life could never be so disavowed. [....] Rather, and I beg a thousand pardons, real life could be so disavowed by the mundane romanticism of the fair sex. It is always the same, a genre that does not even want to tackle the bitter and the sweet aspects of life, the real concerns, the real longings, the really burning existential questions. [...]

Only one symbol of a more deeply perceived nature makes itself felt, although it is certainly one not desired or even intended by the author: it is a kind of poignant version of the female doppelganger motif in which the unleashed hell of the senses and the virgin's most tender virtues are physically identical ... but this is really getting far afield! Especially if you like and admire Fritz Lang, especially if you esteem Thea von Harbou's talents as a screenwriter, then you have to speak bluntly, even though quite honestly you say it with a heavy heart. One and a half years of nerve-wracking work! A thousand wonderfully conceived and executed, thoroughly worked-out details! By and large it is a matchless technical marvel. And yet ... it would be a great fault to keep silent on the matter.


{Fred Hildenbrandt, 'Metropolis, Berliner Tageblatt, 11 January 1927 (late edition), pp.2-3. English translation}

"Judicare non necesse, schwannecke est necesse"

A reviewer must face 3 serious but also naive questions without qualms when assigned this critique. First: should he attend the filming. Second: should he demand to see the daily rushes? Third: should he visit the establishment Schwannecke after the premiere? Decidedly well established reviewers will answer wonderingly whether the critical point of view had to remain the same during the making, first showing, or final visit to Schwannecke.

Firstly: the author did experience a few days and nights of the actual filming in Neubabelsberg, and before he would know was obsessed by the storm of this endeavour, by the relentless and far beyond duty devotion of so many people - chalk white with make-up, dog tired and yet unvanquished - stood around, or hunkered down or ran or screamed, overwhelmed by the gigantic, spooky buildings, the tidal wave of klieg lights, awed by the director who had to oversee all of this and keep it running - the author then became the public and at that not the worst of it.

Secondly: he did see this film bit by bit on a screen in a small projection room and again, before he even knew it, was 1) totally taken by its very impact, 2) by its charm, 3) by its rhythm, 4) delirious by the whole and 5) by the sheer tempo of it all. Obsessed by the beauty of the frames depicting iron and steam, poles and stone, people and their fates. Obsessed by the legends of this work, the fairy tale of the rich boy and an anonymous girl -here again he was not the worst attending public.

Thirdly: After the premiere the author did go to Schwannecke - the whole world is aware what this establishment on the Rankestraße means to the cerebral labourers of Berlin. Here are the eternal gardens of the cognoscenti, the club of the anointed; here judgement grows high like the palms of a fakir from tables in seconds; here the whole gamut between humour and deadly seriousness, between detestation and fondness, between heart and brain, between certain knowledge and pure instinct is being fingered, watched, turned over, tasted, rubbed, decried and lauded to the heavens - all of whatever happens in Berlin books, newspapers, film, theatre. And not jokingly, here are sitting those who know what is up and what is not. Actors, critics, poets and journalists, film directors, painters and those without a calling who should be listened to even by those who have just arrived by chance. In short - the public, and again not the worst.

And what do they all say about "Metropolis"? Not just superficially, but giving rhyme and reason - it is an artificial, coldly calculating bit of business with magnificent photography, matchless technical achievements, but sentimental pretentious Kitsch, full with old and new tricks, bad acting, painful text, hollow symbolism and empty phrases, false realism and doubtful romancing, untruthfulness in its very scenario, utterly dependant on mainstream literature, and all this at the same time.

This author then nearly became the proverbial wet poodle, since if all this were indeed so - a fakir's growth of argument, this labour of nearly 2 years, to be exact 310 days and 60 nights, the labour of 8 main actors, 750 smaller roles, 25 000 male extras and 11 000 female ones, 1100 bald heads, 750 children, 100 Negroes, 25 Chinese, the throwing away of seven million DM, for the sake of Kitsch, with all the more laudable things which such expenditure could have afforded the German film - it would seem such madness and failure for this reviewer just to wish he were Adamson with a cigar in his maw, his hard hat askew, leaving the debris of this disaster behind and embarking via Munich towards Genua and the south. But he must take issue and try to remember at first.

The exalted public at the Ufa Palast am Zoo saw on the screen the following: in the fantastic city Metropolis, made of futuristic towers and streets, the workers live below ground and their overlords in the light of day. Way into the deep stand the uniformed modern slaves at their machinery. Change of shift at a debilating pace, exhaustion, steam and sweat. Upstairs in the light disport the sons of the masters with athletics, clubs and gardens and ready-made female playthings. The mightiest of the masters is John Fredersen and the most handsome of sons is his own, Freder. Still lower than the workers domain lives a mysterious girl, Maria, to whom the workers make a pilgrimage to after their labours and who promises them a helping mediator to come. Freder sights this girl in the Garden of the Sons when she visits there with a gaggle of workers's children, and from then on he must seek her out and descends into the worker's region and realizes that they are slaves. He witnesses an explosion, calls out to his father, fails to understand any longer the world nor the father, returns to the lower depths, changes clothes with a worker and tales his place at the switch-board. John Frederson finds out that something is brewing down below in the catacombs and with plans in his pocket which he cannot understand, taken from perished workers, consults the inventor Rotwang. Rotwang, who had been in love with Frederson's wife, isby now half crazed and has made an incredible invention which will make it possible to artificially recreate Hel, the woman he had lost to Fredersen.

Rotwang more or less deciphers the worker's plans, descends with Frederson into the catacombs where they witness this strange religious ceremony which makes Frederson demand that Rotwang give his artificial woman the features of Maria, then enticing the workers to revolt and giving him an excuse for radical intervention. The deception is effected and the good Maria is imprisoned in Rotwang's house, while the evil Maria entices the workers to destroy the machinery. The machinery breaks apart and the worker's town is flooded - only afterwards above do the instigators remember their children left behind, now surely drowned, and hound this Maria to the stake, not knowing that this Maria is the artificial one, while in the meantime the real Maria has already rescued the children. After total confusion and a fight to the knife with Rotwang, Feder finds the real Maria, forces his father to extend a conciliatory hand to the workers, in short he has become the mediator.

This fable, retold sketchily, was presented to the public at this premiere, which broke into applause at some of the technical photographic achievements, recalled repeatedly the director Fritz Lang, the author of the script Thea v. Harbou, the photographer of the film, the principal actors, and yet was not entirely and unconditionally impressed. This at first should not be a surprise. This film was talked about since its commencement, had innumerable visitors at the studio, newspapers wrote dissertations with illustrations, the fakirs of all faculties whispered about the enormous sums spent on this film, the interest in this film was kept at a burning pitch since May 1926, expectations were at the utmost. A great part of the public knew about this film from previous private showings, which made it only natural - and this not only at Schwannekes - that this work with all the preliminary knowledge about all the various stages of the development, fuelled by too much talk and excessive publicity, was finally almost diminished, causing a thorough thrashing and plucking apart, typical for Berlin.

The author, who leaned to love this film, still loves it, loves it in spite of everything just the same, and will furthermore will not desert it. He knows that he must man a defence, that the workers of the future will not have to live below ground, will by no means be slaves, also that this mediator basically does nothing more than flit around. That, for example, the often shown closed doors are an old trick, that John Fredersen - who would allow thousands of children to drown and yet wants to be reconciled - is in fact a bit of a pale villain, that Maria's mission is very vague, that all the symbolics of the tower of Babel and the whore of Babylon, while effective, do not belong in this scheme, also that the abrupt change-over between stylised situations, for example the changing of shifts, and brutally naturalistic happenings, is too contrived and then because..... and again simply because of this and that, and finally at long last because the whole bit of the machinery of the future does not quite gel, and yet again because .........

Yet all this cannot overshadow some music not previously heard, some hues not as yet seen, the ancient immortal tale of the king's son and the poor girl, the age-old tale of the wicked conjurer, now translated into a different language and tone, into the quick and hard expressions of a future to be, the fireworks of the legend of machinery and switch-boards, the dispiriting tale of man's dependence on accumulators, turbines and ac/dc electricity. All this is depicted in fascinating shots, much more than mere inventive trickery, not at all done in cold blood. Achieved by someone who not only has the ability but also all what it takes. Whether the workers will live like this or not, whether machinery can be technically perfected like this, whether the fabulously conceived perspectives of a city of the future will look like this or not or different, either way this fairy-tale remains gorgeous.

He who can devine in this little finishing-school girl called Brigitte Helm - her utter sweetness, purity and gentle prowess, contained grace and thespian obsession, a face resplendent with possibilities - knows his stuff. In regards to her, even at Schwannekes the fakirs are of one opinion - this is talent writ large. But who can tell whether ever again it will be given to her to endow another task with so many shades of what dreams are made of, utterly without restraint, as it was her lot to do here. Also, he who can perceive that Heinrich George, that marvellous actor, pulling at our heart-strings, endowed this role of the gnarled, touching fanatic and yet helpless master of works, defining with deft certainty the tender against the robust, releasing and disclosing the soft kernel underneath, knows his stuff. He who can direct these dark masses upwards and downwards, can inflame the hurricane within them, knows his stuff. And only since yesterday? Surely since the "Müden Tod", since "Nibelungen", since "Mabuse" - who then in German film if not this one, knows his stuff ? He who allows pretty boy Gustav Fröhlich, wearing white silk, to just run around with inclined head, doing practically nothing and yet has him embody boyish youth and cleanliness, the pure hero of the fairy-tale, racing to catch happiness with just the power of his limbs and his cheek-bones, knows his stuff. Even when he miscast Klein-Rogge doing outmoded theatrics. Wherever you stop in this film, for example the invention of artificial woman within fireworks of sparks, beams of light flashing within a spooky array of circling arcs, does this not convey the new fairy-tale of to-day ? Or the new telephone by which the master of Metropolis can not only hear but actually see the person on the other end - again our new fairy-tale!

This then is the most fabulous film which German industry has ever fashioned, the truly great Ufa film, the photography of which soars with never before seen excellence - the hunt through the catacombs, up close to the walls, fiendishly nailing the sight of a child within the parameters of a flash-light - children fleeing a tidal wave, gigantic machinery at work and then explosively disintegrating, workers in revolt, a young man's feint optically explored, the Seven Deadly Sins coming to life in stone before the cathedral, man evolving in the electronic age, a view of the future through virtuoso cross-cutting (Otto Hunte's).

This labour of Fritz Lang is meant to be taken in all seriousness and his famous photographer and friend, Günther Rittau went along and filmed and filmed, without loosing breath or impetus, on and on. And while there is an abyss between the technical know-how of Lang and the scenario of Thea v. Harbou, in as much as the one has created a space for magnificent deeds, which the other can only fill thinly and with tired schematics, nevertheless in spite of this abyss this new fairy-tale has not only been born but leads to new directions and venues in film.

Dear Fritz Lang - put a cigar in your maw, doff your bowler, let the dervishes twirl at Schwannekes, God be with us and Adamson, behind you the magic city Metropolis vanishes into the mists, which not only, after all is said and done, has not only delighted me, leaving me enthusiastic and enchanted...

The film "Metropolis", after its premiere yesterday at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo, will be screened from to-day on at the Ufa Pavilion at Nollendorfer Platz.


{Anon., 'Metropolis Film Seen - Berlin Witnesses a Grim Portrayal of Industrial Future', New York Times, 11 January 1927. News report and brief review, based on the Berlin premiere.}

Metropolis Film Seen

Berlin Witnesses a Grim Portrayal of Industrial Future

Berlin, Jan. 10 - Metropolis, costliest and most ambitious picture ever screened in Europe, had its initial presentation at U.F.A. Palace here tonight before an audience which included Chancellor Marx, several other Cabinet officers, members of the diplomatic corps and the foremost figures of Berlin society, art and literature. Whatever success this extraordinary production may achieve throughout the world will be due to its mechanical rather than to its human aspect.

The grandiose artisty of the vast engines with which Fritz Lang, film director, portrays the grim civilization of the industrial future is gripping in the extreme. So too are the black hordes of brutish toilers chained to their machines far underground, while up in the vast, airy city above, their masters dissipate the fruits of their labour.

Lang's conception of this futuristic Tower of Babel is a supurb stroke of the imagination. Likewise his creation of an artificial woman whom the superlord of the industrial realm - his physical resemblance to Henry Ford is amazingly close - seeks to use against his rebellious slaves, but whom her inventor turns against the inhuman system she so sensationally epitomizes, fairly made the audience gasp. But the acting for the most part is of the stage - stagey, and many of the lesser effects are painfully theatrical.

From this generalization must be excepted Brigitte Helm,playing the double role of the workers devoted friend and the machine woman. Great credit is generally given Thea von Harbou, author of the scenario and ife of Lang. The enthusiasm of the audience rose to great heights only in the really overwhelming scenes of the stark inferno of machinery.


{R. A., 'Metropolis', The Red Flag, The Official Paper of the Communist Party in Germany, Berlin, Vol.10, No.9, 12 January 1927. English translation}

Premiere of 'Metropolis' in the Ufa-Palast am Zoo

The capitalist reactionary rationalisation grows into limitless fantastic dimensions. Its symbol becomes "Metropolis" the city piercing the sky with its skyscrapers, ruled and guided by a capitalistic mogul. The class-division has been perfected. By now the workers have become a part of the machinery only, a indistinguishable, soulless mass. Banned into the nether regions to service the ultra-electric super-apparatuses which generate the wealth for the upper world. There we have immense unlimited luxury, life without limits rationalized. Paradisaical gardens for the "sons" and females trained in the service of Venus - elevated enthroned over all of it is not "the ape-man without brain ruling the world through pressing buttons" but the almighty magnate in whose trust Metropolis runs.

Along this premise the director sets a more than lacking script. From the underworld comes Maria, the "good spirit" of the nether-region slaves, into the paradisaical gardens of the "sons". Is it any wonder that Freder, son of the all-powerful John Fredersen, falls in love with her and seeks out the underworld he had no idea existed. Since he is intended to be the mediator between "brain" (read exploiter) and "hand"(read work-slave), he experiences how some workers are crushed by the super-machinery . This and his noble nature make him take a place at one of these machines for a day. After hours his sport-trained body feels the claws of exploitation closing down and with the cry "father, father won't these 10 hours ever end" he collapses. Although the 100% mechanized workers have neither a union or political redress they make from time to time a pilgrimage into catacombs 2000 metres below where "Maria" preaches to the workers. Her motto is "The mediator between hand and brain must be the heart" she apes a speech by Stresemann at the music festival in Dresden "only if our people in this age of machinery and cities with millions of inhabitants keep up their spirits shall we experience recovery."

Freder appears as mediator - his troth to Maria is sealed. However the strong arm of the dictator intervenes, after learning about the "inciting" work of Maria by highly outlandish means and decides to restore the "peace of work" via destroying the worker's belief in Maria. He turns to Rotwang the inventor, already busy for years with inventing an artificial human and entices him to invests this artefact with the face of Maria. Rotwang agrees but is filled with thoughts of revenge since Fredersen had in the past robbed him of his beloved woman; he feints consent in order to ruin his son and his world. The false Maria appears not in the guise of a saint but of a prostitute (as if there were much difference between the two) and demonically calls the "sons" to massacre each other while "provoking" the slaves in the underworld to wreck the machines. Eventually though the "mediator" wins a victory over the machinations of the inventor through "the golden heart" - the workers allow the machines to overrun into destruction , but fearing for the future of their children their rage turns against the false Maria, to be burned in a frenzied dance. The "Saviour Maria" however saves these children from the flooding of the underworld. Although the inventor tries once more to get her into his power a battle between this demon and "the mediator" takes place in breathtaking heights, ending in the "mediator's" victory. Maria is finally his, the dictator and the head of the workers meet and the "mediator" reconciles them. The idea of co-operation has won the day and coalition triumphs - CURTAIN !

The attending ministers just back from negotiations were enthusiastic, as well as we have heard that the Social Democratic Party wants to make the director a honorary member for his merits. It seems that this director had imagined an utopian films with enough realistic tendencies - also with something for everyone - "Metropolis" for the bourgeoisie, for the workers the destruction of the machinery, for the Social-democrats the coalition, for the Christian- democrats the "golden heart" and messianic nonsense.

Fritz Lang has neither achieved a grand scale utopia nor realized dreams, though most probably he does not bear full responsibility for that since the contents of the "Ufa" films are guided by is directors by the principals of the Neuhorfer stock-exchange.

Apart from this kitschy content no doubt the technical achievements of this film are remarkable and hitherto unsurpassed. The illusion of the skyscraper city, the depiction of the underworld machinery, the "birth" of the artificial human, the flood as well as the mass-scenes are excellent. Not much can be said for the actors - the new star, Brigitte Helm will soon dim and Alfred Abel as John Frederson was absolutely lamentable - the one exception was Heinrich George as head of the workers.

The film lasts 2 ½ hours which is exactly one hour too long - even then the Ufa directors will not only have 1000 unemployed for the "tower of Babylon" but also will skin further thousands (considering the price of admission of 2-8 DM).


{Anon., New York Times, 16 January 1927. Brief notice of the film's successful premiere in Berlin.}

Studio Jottings - $2,000,000 German Film

The Ufa production, Metropolis, which is said to have met with great success in Berlin, is to be released over here by Famous Players. Prints of this production are now in the Astoria studio. Because it will require very careful cutting to bring this picture down from sixteen reels to twelve, there is a chance that it will not be presented here until next Autumn. The film is said to have cost $2,000,000, and on its success depends the life of Ufa.

The story deals with a world where the workers live underground, and an inventor, further to control them, invents an artificial or 'Robot' woman. She is made by imprisoning the living model in a glass cylinder, and then the machine 'woman' is molded from her. The 'Robot', however, turns out to be a 'revolutionary machine woman,' and incites the workers to revolt. She brings about disaster. Maria, the heroine of the story, is rescued by her sweetheart.

The effect of the Robot woman is obtained by the use of elastic plaster, with which Brigitte Helm, the actress who plays the role, is covered. The plaster allows free play to the eyes and mouth without cracking or losing its shape. Miss Helm is said never before to have acted in front of the camera. Fritz Lang directed the film, the supervisor having been Erich Pommer, who is now in Hollywood.


{Herman G. Scheffauer, 'An Impression of the German Film Metropolis', New York Times, 6 March 1927. Critical review by a n American writing from Berlin. Scheffauer is somewhat disappointed with this 'wonderful' film's failure to suspend disbelief and carry the audience into the future. He feels it is held back by too many contemporary references and failings, though he recognises it as a 'master-film of the times.'}

An Impression of the German Film Metropolis

Fritz Lang, the German producer,has accomplished a monumental task - the placing of Metropolis upon the screen. The title is derived from a novel by his wife, Thea von Harbou, who was also the author of two other grandiose films, The Indian Mausoleum and Siegfried. For almost two years the author and producer have been working on this 'light' drama - working with thousands of hands and with millions of German marks and American dollars - for the film is an Ufa production, and the Ufa is a combination of American capital and German skills.

The set of 'Neu Babelsberg', between Berlin and Potsdam, was the scene of tremendous happenings, the rise and fall of a strange iron community, of desperate undertakings, of cataclysms of nature, of eruptions of maddened humanity, of the appalling epxeriments of an inventor bent upon creating an artificial human being, of the triumph of the Moloch Machine over man, and the revolt of Man against the Machine. Now and again wispers made their way to the public - wispers of the great doings at the creation of metropolis - of the epic action and the technical triumphs which were to make this film a masterpiece of masterpieces.

Potpourri of Elements

The final effect, now that the film has been unloosed upon the public, may justify some of these expectations - others are fated to disappointment - unavoidable disappointment, since the line between the end aimed at and the end achieved is so plainly visible. The positive achievement is, however, so great that it outweighs many of the flaws and failures. these have arisen chiefly through capitulation to making concessions in something that was to be new and unprecedented, to things that were already old and tried - however trivial, however much of the discord they may have represented in the scheme of this great plan.

Instead of showing us a real, stark, implacable State or City of the future, we have an astounding, even dismaying potpourri of all the elements which have ever played a part in so-called successful films. Our eyes andm inds are not fixed upon the future, we are not engulfed and overwhelmed by the implacable machine State, but are torn hither and thither by scenes and situations that are utterly familiar and that work havoc with the unity of the whole majestic idea. We are flung into the present and catapulted into the past, and our internal sense of gravity is upset and our emotional and intellectual axis displaced.

it may be that Fritz Lang did not intend to build up a film showing a future civilization - industrialism reduced to its last consequences. But as this great city of slaves and masters which he depicts is not of the present and cannot in this form be of the past, it must necessarily deal with the future. There is an air of Jules Verne, of Edward Bellamy, of H.G. Wells about it - and hints of George Kaiser's Gas,and even of Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein. A whole cosmos is unloosed upon us. The settings are awe-inspiring, but the people who act, live, love, labor or hate have all the feelings and gestures and posturings of the film people of today. Perhaps that is necessary, perhaps artistic independence is not for the film producer who must work with millions for millions.

Perplexing at Times

And yet Metropolis is a wonderful film, in many ways one of the most remarkable achievements in the hisotry of the 'light play.' It is the epic of man and machine. It is the apotheosis of technics and mechanics. A new wonder seizes us - a new thrill and shudder work upon our nerves. We feel that new forces have been unloosed upon this earth of ours; that man is being enslaved by them, even the man who is master of the human and mechanical slaves. The sinister, demoniacal nature of machinery that has almost become human is brought out vividly, the drab masses of workers, moving in processions to and from their shifts, walking with a rhythmical tread, a lockstep like the motion of a machine itself; the dark, grmy hordes living in an underground city while their masters revel in the sunlight above, and send their towers and campaniles towards the heavens in a vision that outdoes Manhattan - the gigantic life and intricate entangelment of the human and the inanimate - all this is depicted with a masterly touch, a true creative vision. The fault lies in the fact that the human beings of today cannot be fitted into an environment such as that shown in Metropolis.

The city of strange skyscrapers with its elevated bridges for automobiles, its vast steam-whistles built up like a temple, its airplanes circling amid the crests of the towers, its pigmy masses crawling on the far-down streets, was represented with great ingenuity - the small scale models had much of the effect of reality. Not precisely of American reality, for America, seen through the temperament of the European, is always given a strange, exotic touch. It was evidently the intention of the creators of this film to present a future State founded upon the America of today - or of America's peak achievement of today - the Tower of Babel of New York. But the Babel, the Paradise and the Inferno of metropolis are all sublimated visions of the real America, even where they are meretricious, and that must be counted as an achievement in itself - a triumph for the vision and creative power of the german author,producers and actors. They see, for better or for worse, America from another angle than ours and this perspective gives the whole a touch of the ideal - just as distance in space often gives us the detachment which is inherent in distance in time. With some of its excrescences lopped off, Metropolis will bid fair to become one of the master-films of the times.

[Notes] Metropolis, which is now on view at the Rialto, was originally in sixteen reels. For this country it has been cut down to nine. Some odea of the enormous task of producing this film can be gathered from figures furnished by frederick Wynne-Jones, managing director for Ufa in New York.

Work on this picture involved 310 days and sixty nights. It cost $1,500,000 and nearly 2,000,000 feet of negative was exposed. There were 25,000 men and 11,000 women extras, 750 children and 25 Chinese. More than 11,000 of the men had shaven heads. The costumes cost 2,000,000 marks and 3,500 pairs of shoes were brought. Altogether 1,600,000 marks was piad out in salaries. Fifty automobiles were in use during the busiest moments on this production.

The trimming of this production is said, by those who saw it in its original form,to have improved it. The names of the characters had been changed for the showings in the United States.


{Morduant Hall, New York Times, 7 March 1927. Perfunctory review, pointing out both ground-breaking aspects of the film, and its numerous failings.}

Metropolis - A Technical Marvel

Nothing like Metropolis, the ambitious Ufa production that has created wide international comment, has been seen on the screen. It, therefore, stands alone, in some respects, as a remarkable achievement. It is a technical marvel with feet of clay, a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of the story. Its scenes bristle with cinematic imagination, with hordes of men and women and astounding stage settings. It is hardly a film to be judged by its narrative, for despite the fantastic nature of the story, it is, on the whole, unconvincing, lacking in suspense and at time extravagantly theatric. It suggests a combination of a preachment on capital and labor in a city of the future, an R.U.R. idea and something of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Its moral is that the brains and the hands fail when the heart (love) does not work with them. The brains represent capital; and the hands, labor.

The production itself appears to have been a Frankenstein model to the story. Fritz Lang, the famous German director who was responsible for the Siegfried film, handled the making of the photodrama. Occasionally it strikes one that he wanted to include too much and then that all one anticipates does not appear. But at the same time the various ideas have been spliced together quite adroitly. It is a subject on which an adverse comment has to be taken from the enormity of the task, as most other pictures would fade into insignificance if compared to it. When one criticizes the halting steps of the workmen, their stagy efforts to demonstrate fatigue and even the lacking details of life in this metropolis, one realizes that there is in this screen effort much that borders on symbolism.

The narrative is based on a novel by Mr. Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, who also supplied the manuscripts for The Indian Musoleum and Siegfried. Roughly, it concerns an inventor who makes a woman from a real woman, without injuring the latter. This manufactured Mary at first is employed to quell the dissatisfied workers, but by some queer freak she eventually incites the men and women laborers to rebel against the wealthiest man in Metropolis.

Here the producer shows the laborers living in tall buildings underground, while the families of the wealthy enjoy the fresh air and sunshine atop a great skyscraper. Metropolis is ruled by John Masterman, a man of great brain and whose only soft spot in his heart is for his son, Eric. This son falls in love with Mary, one of the workers, and he, in sympathy for those who work and dwell far under the ground, becomes one of the underlings, much against his father's wishes.

Mr. Lang introduces the up-to-date appliances in Masterman's office, including a giant board with push buttons and the television means of communication, whereby he can see the man to whom he is talking but himself can't be seen. You see a quailing man going to the telephone to talk with Masterman. The ruler of Metropolis also has his secretaries, who stand in abject fear of him, and one of these, a bloodless, square-headed individual in whom bone predominates, is delegated to watch Eric. This secretary has a slanting forehead and a receding chin, an excellent type for the heartless Masterman.

Some idea of the prodigious work in this production can be imagined when it is said that about 37,000 extras were engaged in some of the episodes. Eleven thousand of the men have shaven heads. These workers are perceived storming the gates of the underground tunnel, and are also beheld going to and from their daily toil. The relief watch walks with easy step, while the others, tired after their hours of monotonous work, are halting in their gait and bent of back.

The sequence in which Rotwang, the inventor, manufactures a double of Mary is put forth in a startling fashion. Rotwang first gives chase to the real Mary, and then puts her in a glass cylinder, around which appears circles of radium lights. To add to the impression, there are boiling liquids in glass globes, and finally the Mary without a soul is produced with the help of an iron Robot like woman Rotwang had made previously. The artificial Mary, the 'woman' who could walk and talk but possessed no soul, has queer drooping underlids to her eyes. She leers at those who approach her. In one sequence she stirs the multitude of workers with her arguments in favor of Masterman, and in another she is seen as a dancing queen. Meanwhile, the real Mary has been shut up in a chamber in Rotwang's house of many doors.

In the last chapter of this picture, after the artificial Mary has turned traitor to Rotwang and Masterman, the 'woman' is discovered and burned. During this scene the manufactured Mary suddenly changes into the form of the metal creature. There is a flood underground, and it is through the fact that Eric and the real Mary save the workers' children that Masterman himself is spared.

Brigitte Helm is extraordinarily fine in the roles of the real and the artificial Mary. Alfred Abel gives a vivid portrayal of Masterman, and Gustav Froelich is excellent as Eric. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is splendid as the inventor. The cast is remarkably well chosen.


{Frank Vreeland, New York Telegram, 7 March 1927. Insightful, positive and eloquent review of the film. Picks up on the anti-Fordism elements and notes the many Wellsian elements in the story.}


On Saturday night, after the first view of Metropolis, I picked myself up out of my seat at the Rialto feeling like a limp rag, or a withered flower or a wilted critic. I had the persuasion that, emotionally, I had been hung up by the thumbs through this stupendous German picture. Likewise, I had the sensation that this sardonic Ufa dissertation of our mechanical age, while monumentally sign-posting the perilous way that material civilization is going, had also poured most of the gigantic machinery which it holds right into my lap. So towering and overwhelming and unique is this imported Wellsian picture, with which Famous Players-Lasky expect to stop New York in its tracks for an indefinite space at the Rialto. It's an eye crasher.

Most of all did I have the impression that here at last the movies had truly and immemorially justified themselves, with a smashing, reverberant idea that might have swept, all glowing and palpitating, out of the boldest pages of H.G. Wells. Spacious and searching, with its often blazing revelation of the blight of efficiency without a soul, it is an idea that crunches upon the consciousness, in spite of having been spouted before by college debaters and others.

At length the screen, through the directorial genius of Fritz Lang, has pulled itself by its bootstraps out of the present morass of sexy stupidities, out of its ceaseless hackneyed groveling before the inanities of Mme. Elinor Glyn's It. Here in Metropolis is an imaginative but belated recognition that life can sometimes contain more than necking parties de luxe.

With splendid photography, with majestic, invincible spectacles, with trenchant acting by Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, and Gustav Froelich, Lang proclaims thunderously that the silver sheet can be the magnificent parade ground for living ideas far more than the constricted speaking theatre. It can unfold in Metropolis a vivid panorama interpreting the world today that makes the frantic efforts of the modern expressionistic school of playwrights seem like mildewed feeble drivel.

This bizarre film may bewilder some at first, because it is frankly a story of the future, without any modern trick framework to make the usual puerile connection with the average subway straphanger. Its main drift is that the standardizing efficiency of our age, stressing material advancement rather than spiritual progress, carries the seeds of its own destruction in its metallic bosom. To impress this graphically Metropolis visions a mammoth city of the latter century, teeming with mechanical marvels and owned by one callous, super efficient master - who bears in the person of his German impersonator a haunting suggestion of Henry Ford.

Bloodless pinnacle of a soulless age, he has reduced life to a deadly uniformity for his myriads of grubbing workers, who exist like moles underground while on the upper crust the few elect persons feast at the flesh pots rabidly. Masterman's one soft spot is his affection for his son, who falls in love with a spiritual girl of the working classes, beloved by the sweating, dreary laborers as she tried to put a god into their machines. Because she inspired the awakened son to espouse the common cause and turn hired hand, and because the underdogs are muttering, ominously, Masterman has her hidden away, while her image is reproduced by an inventor in a mischievous, heartless mechanical girl, responsive to Masterman's bidding and cowing the throngs who worship her.

But this Frankenstein monster is true to her breed and works evil for her creators. Under her baneful exhortation rebellion flames up and the workmen nearly smash Metropolis. The picture, however, is not revolutionary at bottom, for it winds up with Capital and Labor shaking hands. Also, it has a happy ending for the two lovers, though a tragic one was quite in order. But the box office is one of the symbols of modern efficiency which even this picture can't ignore.

Those who recall Well's early novel, When the Sleeper Wakes, and are conversant with his 'Story of the Days to Come' in the volume called Tales of Space and Time, will find them here translated into marvelous photography in a world of beings living in a state of suspended animation. The overalled, numbed workers, the swart underground habitations - all are from Wells. Wellsian books have always been popular in Germany , and there can be no doubt that they spurred Lang to dream this powerful picture into existence. Possibly also, he was influenced by a now forgotten romance of Atlantis, The Scarlet Empire, written twenty years ago by Richard Parry and flooding the lost continent to its destruction, just as the maddened workmen here flood their own subterranean city, forgetting their deserted children and leaving them to be heroically and damply rescued by Masterman's son.

The very scenes are like Wells illustrations, dazzling and far -flung and a little sinister, with soaring pyramids of skyscrapers to make the most advanced architect a little dizzy. In refulgent cliffs, they hang above breathless canyons wherein meander hordes of weird motors, aerial interlacing runways, and flying bridges, where express trains streak, while through them busy airplanes loop and dart like dragonflies. Below these vibrate colossal machines, so Brobdignagian that the screen is all to small and seems to bulge with them. One has the feeling that these devouring industrial dinosaurs, wreathed in cruel gusts of steam like Moloch, grind out collar buttons or something equally puny.

All these scenes are studio sets, sometimes in minature, and yet one never tires of them, so marvelous and massive and meaty are they. Camera angles assert themselves, yet here they are, oddly enough, justifiable. For they assist the drama, especially in those vistas where the son, Eric Masterman, tears about like a tiny atom adrift in a chaotic world to save his sweetheart from the Lon Chaney inventor.


Poster issued by Ufa for the original German release of Metropolis in January 1927. It shows Maria in the headgear associated with Rotwang's transformation machine.

{Randolph Bartlett, New York Times, 13 March 1927. This article presents a justification for the savage cutting and re-editing of Metropolis by Channing Pollock's team in order to cater to an American audience. There is an arrogance evident in the writing which points to the view that American filmmakers / studio executives thought they knew better than their German counterparts as to what constituted a good film and what the audience wanted to see. They apparently felt the need 'fix' mistakes by directors such as Fritz Lang. Film as Art, as opposed to mere Entertainment, was a concept the Americans were apparently slow to take up, and this is evident by their treatment of Metropolis. Would one allow Jackson Pollock to 'fix' a Picasso - I think not.}

German Film Revision Upheld as Needed Here

I am getting just a bit tired of the attitude taken by certain writers and other commentators, that anything done to a German moving picture to prepare it for American audiences is automatically and inevitably wrong. I am prepared to support in some detail the opposite position - that with possibly two exceptions, the successes of German productions in America have been largely due to expert editing in this country.

In certain elements of picture making the Germans have achieved outstanding supremacy. First of all, perhaps, is the element of force. In productions like Metropolis, there is breath-taking power. In others, such as Danton (All for a Woman) and Quo Vadis, the force was almost crude and boisterous, but there was in these films a sincerity and relentlessness that held the audiences in its grip. In these pictures, as in The Loves of Pharaoh, that force was expressed in the sweep of large bodies of men and women, giving a momentum best described in the physical formula, mass multiplied by velocity and by distance.

In the handling of light the Germans have been well abreast with the times,, and their cleverness in working out unique effects, such as the travelling concentric rings of light moving through one another in the metamorphosis scene in Metropolis, has often baffled the American experts.

It has been amazing to those who have handled German productions and recognized these and other touches of genius,, that when it came to the telling of the story there seemed to be either a lack of interest in dramatic verity, or an astonishing ineptitude. Motives were lacking for the most important developments of the narrative, or were extremely naïve. Yet all that was required was a little ingenuity to work into the scenes the missing elements. it is no answer to this criticism to say that in many of the pictures made in this country the same faults are to be found.

Concerning Metropolis, it is not in my province to speak in detail of what was done; but I saw the whole seventeen reels before they were touched, and watched the film take form under the hands of Channing Pollock, Julian Johnson and Edward Adams, and I have never seen a greater achievement of the editing art. And all they were trying to do was to bring out the real thought that was manifestly back of the production, and which the Germans had simply 'muffed.' I am willing to wager that Metropolis, as it is seen at the Rialto now, is nearer Fritz Lang's idea than the version he himself released in Germany.

Then there are incidents that are almost hilariously amusing. In Metropolis there was originally a very beautiful statue of a woman's head, and on the base was here name - and that name was 'Hel.' Now the German word for 'hell' is 'hoelle' so they were quite innocent of the fact that this name would create a guffaw in an English speaking audience. So it was necessary to cut this beautiful bit out of the picture, and a certain motive which it represented had to be replaced by another.

A laugh-inspiring bit in a tragic moment was removed from The Loves of Pharaoh. The hero and heroine were being stormed by a mob, and whenever a 'stone' hit any person or any other substance it bounced. It was perfect Keystone.

These are mild examples. In the last seven or eight years I have been closely in touch with most of the important productions brought to America from Germany, and I have yet to see one which, in its original state, did not contain some sore spot that protruded like a wart on the end of a nose. I will add that I did not see The Last Laugh and Variety until they were in the theatre. So much for actual, intrinsic values. When we add to this the fact that American audiences require fare far different from that of the European, we multiply the necessity for adaptation. Most of this worship of German films is of a piece with milady's pride in her Paris hat, which, with the exception of the label, can be duplicated in a dozen shops on Grand Street. If you don't believe that German films need to be edited, ask the man who owns one.


{Sime, 'Metropolis', Variety, New York, 16 March 1927. A rather confusing critical review, written in a low, derisive tone, and pointing to the confusion arising out of the American editing of the film. The author emphasises the plight of the young vamp Mary as she is chased about Metropolis by Eric and the crazed 'Rot.' It is written as though reviewing a New York play about two young lovers, and is therefore somewhat superficial, though nevertheless interesting.}


UFA production, German-made, released through Famous Players - Laskey. No player starred or featured in American presentation. Without press sheet as yet available, technical information not at hand. Opened at Rialto (Publix), New York, March 5, indefinitely. Running time, 107 minutes.

John Masterman ………. Alfred Abel

Eric, his son …………... Gustav Froelich

Rotwang, the inventor … Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Joseph …………………. Theodore Loos

No.7 …………………… Heinrich George

Mary……………………. Brigitte Helm

Metropolis has mass appeal over here, but without class appeal of any character. It's a weird story - visionary all of the time, without any degree of unusual imagination and ofttimes monotonous. Withal, a puzzling film that might deceive the most expert picture showman, either way. Yet it holds something that holds the picture audience and will draw to a picture house. That may be its wierdness or its production or photography or subject matter of 100 years hence or so; or its attempted massiveness of scences - or that it reels off like a Henry Ford dream: mechanical - human labor of the future.

Without a press sheet, exactly what is striven for must be doped out. It appears to be that the mechanical can never wholly substitute for the human labor, nor must Capital entirely exhaustits working people, or that the human physical elements may never be mechanically transposed.These things will fling an ordinary picture audience at their limitations into a turmoil of thought, meanwhile held to some suspense by the supposed vastness of it all - big machinery halls, the huge crowds of labor people, mythical ultra-modern city of 100 years hence with its underground living abode for the laborers, or the perpetual lock step with its dirge that runs throughout the film.

After all of this for the serious side, and before the picture has been running very long, one is inclined to launch at its plain absurdities, its open face scheme of story and the merciless persecution of poor Mary. Mary is probably the most chased girl of the screen. They chased her everywhere every minute, up alleys, into rooms, over roofs and what not. If Mary saw a chance to escape, the open door closed just before she reached it. The only thing muffed was a blackface comedian to get the laughs in this stupendous scene of a 'Haunted House', a nd Eric, the son of his father, who went down into the subterranean town for the first time in his 20 years to see the village and Mary. Caught by the skirt as he was wranglingwith some vamps in burlesque wheel costumes, Eric fell for the dame. This was Mary, also about 20, and [at] the first time she ever had seen inside of a two-story home. Mary had large blue eyes.Someone had told her to stare, and plenty. Mary did.

Down in the village to which the workmen went in elevators holding 1,000 people or more, from appearances, Mary was a sort of Aimee McPherson evangelist, without the scandel. Mary preached peace, before and after she landed Eric (a much better German name than John for a young chaser). But Eric wasn't mary's only chaser. The other was Rotwang, an inventor. After he had perfected Metropolis, as a one-man town belonging to John Masterman, Rotwang - who looks like David Belasco did 15 years ago - startedto pull the final surprise upon his Masterman. He had fashioned a human figure of metal. All [he] required was to get his lights working properly, to send or pour any human he pleased into the figure - and he selected Mary. But before capturing Mary, Rot had to chase her about 18 miles of hallways.

he put everything of Mary's into the figure, excepting Mary's peace-loving soul, but a caption said a soul couldn't bep laced into steel, probably having in mind a few theatrical managers. So when the No.2 Mary came forth, she was a hellraiser, who preached socialism to the workmenand started the machinery going the wrong way. It led to a flood,to the workmen going upstairs, to the real Mary saving the children [of the workers], to Eric getting his Mary, and to the Masterman taking a tumble to himself.

In all of this is trick photography and trick production. Probably there never has been a picture made with so much seemingly trick production stuff. Nothing appears to be on the level of this film. In the trick photography is one bit of swirling electric lights that can't be figured out by any method. In the production end [there] seems to be several massive sets that either were magnified from minatures or drawn as sketches and vitalized. The impossible unison of the movement of humans suggests this. In any event, the effect is big for the 17 percenters.But the photography of metropolis does not compare with that of Variety (the film), which it slightly suggests, although the production end here lies over the other like a tent, whether it's faked or no.

A letter recently received by Variety (this paper) and written by the Aktiegesellschaft fur Spiegeltechnik of berlin, advised that in the UFA picture Metropolis, shortly to be shown in New York, appeared 13 scenes of the firm's system called the Schufftan Process. No one in New York who could be reached had heard of the Schufftan System. It may be like the 'Valley of the Lepers' in Ben-Hur. But Metropolis appears to have some sort of a process introduced to make the immensity of the effect or to aid it, in much the same way pictures have found how to multiply crowds, as must have been done here also. At times the crowds look enormous.

But Metropolis will make the commoners talk, if no more than to say, 'You mist see this crazy picture.' From [our] understanding, the German version was a pretty clumsy affair. Over here and especially recut by Channing Pollock, there is quite good continuity, as far as that could be gotten, while Mr. Pollock's captions have a dignity in language and phrasing that lends greatly to the impressiveness. Without impressiveness this picture would have to fall down because of its blooeyness.

Brigitte Helm as Mary did nicely in acting when assuming the No.2 dual role. That forced her to the other extreme of expression. Alfred Abel as the boss of the works did well the cold, stern driver of men and money. Gustav Froelich, the son, had a heavy part [which] he played lightly for value and must have been slected for his juvenile appearance. Theodor Loos was Joseph or No.7, probably Joseph, and with plenty of beard. He made it resemble Russian more than German, also beating off a mob of several thousand, as did Eric at one time. How those Germans, single handed, can handle mad mobs in pictures is pretty close to a mirthful miracle.

For UFA to say this picture cost almost $2,000,000, if not meaning marks, sounds like the bologna, unless the actors got it or the processes were unusually expensive. It is more easily believable that the picture was comparatively cheap for the eyeful results obtained.

Some sex stuff here and there, and a cooch dancer! Yes, sir, a coocher, in the revigorated mechanical figure, and a pretty good coocher, too, but not so thick around the hips as German coochers generally are. But then you must remember that this young lady was made to order.

Houses that played Variety won't miss with metropolis. It's the same UFA and its wierdness will at least stand up. But don't invite the readers of The American Mercury to see it.


{Evelyn Gerstein, The Nation, 23 March 1927. Insightful, largely positive review, placing the film within the much wider context of German filmmaking and contemporary art movements}


Hollywood lives for money and sex. It borrows or buys its art. It is the Germans who are the perpetual adventurers in the cinema. They gave the camera its stripling mobility, its restless imagination. They played with lights in the studio and achieved innumerable subtleties in the use of black and white as a medium. Even in their scientific minatures they have worked with a virtuoso camera. And it was the Germans who injected fantasy into the cinema.

Metropolis, for all its thesis and its subtitular dialectic compounded for American comprehension by the enlightened Channing Pollock, is much more akin to the romantic vagaries of Siegfried than to the realities of The Last Laugh. For Fritz Lang, who directed both Siegfried and Metropolis, is not a cinema radical. Like Murnau in Faust he thinks in terms of sheer visual beauty, composition, and group rhythms rather than dynamics. He is still of the theatre of Reinhardt in the fluency of his groups and the rhythmic progression of his pageant. Although Karl Freund, the cameraman for The Last Laugh and Variety, has worked here in the same capacity, Metropolis lacks cinematic subtlety. It is only in the shots of machinery in motion and in the surge of the revolutionists that it is dynamic. The camera is too often immobile, the technique that of the stylized theatre.

Freder Fredersen struggling at the clock machine, as he approaches the end of a ten hour shift. The Christian imagery of Freder suffering as in Christ on the cross is clear in this photograph from the film.

Yet here for the first time the chill mechanized world of the future, which only barely revealed itself in R.U.R., has been given reality. Here is the city, that tormented circus of buildings which touch the sky, of tunnels that disrupt the places under the earth. Through the air man has hurled his obstructions, his bridges and traffic ways. Yet only the machines seem real; gigantic purring gods grinding down life. Machines, machines, machines, sliding through the earth, challenging the cosmos, pounding out human resistance as they set the awful tempo of life.

There is no loveliness here, except in the garden of the rich, high above the levels of the city, where space and light are not mortified for efficiency. Below the surface of the earth the workers and their children crawl through a timed eternity, strapped to the dynamos like so many hundred robots. There is no rest, no beauty, no life below the gardens of the higher levels. Man is inanimate. Life is metronomic. It is only the machines that are alive. The machines and the careless children of 'Brains.'

As Lang has directed it, Metropolis is more stylized fantasy than realism. Even in the torrentous revolt of the workers as they pour through the machine-rooms, alive, demoniacal, there is an air of unreality. This is not revolution as the Russians stage it. It has neither taste nor smell. Yet it is magnificent. Even the most careless groupings are beautifully composed. Lang is too much the artist to deny the imagination.

R.U.R. was a satire, but Metropolis is utterly devoid of humor. Thea von Harbou, its author, wrote it originally as a novel and then adapted it to the screen. Only her concept of Metropolis itself is intellectual. The rest is sentimental symbolism. There is no individualization within the type. Her persons are puppets. There is the Capitalist, his Son, Mary the spiritual leader of the workers, et al. The son is the eternal mediator who, with the help of the woman Mary, although only after a revolution intervenes, brings 'brains' and 'brawn' together for the final fade-out.

Perhaps it is because of its original form that Metropolis lacks concision. One of the most interesting episodes of the entire film is that in which the inventor transmits the shape and likeness of Mary to the woman of his creation by encircling bands of electricity, yet it is only partially developed. The robotess, or creature of human invention, breeds revolution and is stoned by the mob, but the formula which gave her life is never mentioned again. The inventor himself is hurled from the cathedral roof by the blond and shining John, the hero; but what of the formula?

It is Metropolis itself, the city of domed basements and curving machine-rooms, of massed buildings that conceal the sky, of aeroplanes that ply their corner-to-corner traffic, of trains that seem to shoot into unmeasured and untracked space, that makes Fritz Lang's film so significant.

[NB: R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) was a play by the Czech writer Karel Capek. It was produced in New York in 1923 and is the source of the word 'robot.']


{Iris Barry, 'Metropolis', The Spectator, London, 26 March 1927. Largely positive review, expressing sympathy for the down-trodden workers theme.}


If Metropolis fails to be quite a great film, the fault lies not with its brilliant german producers,nor with its subject matter, nor with the actual treatment of this picture-parable of life next century. it fails because the cinema as yet fails to be quite adequate as a means of expression.

Here on the screen is a concrete picture of a great city of the future, with its soaring skyscrapers, its aerial traffic-bridges, its clouds of little aeroplanes buzzing about like gnats, its smokelss air, its labour-saving dwellings,its intricate electrical devices and its dependence on machinery. The imagination of Fritz Lang, the director, and of the studio-architects and designers who have brought this vision to 'life' proved adequate enough here. The film shows us the making of an artificial human being; shows us television. We can accept these miracles. it shows us, grimly, the standardized mankind which a future civilization keeps buried deep in the bowels of the earth, and uses only as machine-fodder, mere slaves to the machinery on which - we can quite believe - everything depends. These too we can believe in,for we know and recognize and accept these manual workers with their weary backs, heavy hands and dull, hopeless eyes. We can feel with them and for them, when they rebel and destroy the machinery that enslaves them.

But I fear that the intelligent part of the audiences that see Metropolis will find itvery difficult to admire the peacock-strewn pleasure gardens of the future, in which the free and gilded inhabitants of the skyscrapers of the future disport themselves, heedless of the tragic workers deep below. it is sad, too, to find that men of the future dress just as hideously as do those of today. But the costume is not very convincing, anyhow, in Metropolis; and though part of the film is conceived in an expressionist mood, and part of it quite naturalistically, some of it is mere picture-postcard. The expressionist parts are far and away the best, and the workmen turn outbetter than their masters.

The weaknesses of the cinema are most apparent in the story. It is pure melodrama on the D.W. Griffiths plan, and frankly treated as such. So grandiose a theme as that which Metropolis attempts to develop demanded, of course, something on the epic scale. The cinema, even here at its best, and full as it is of invention and thrill, is still only at the mental age of seventeen. It is still - quite rightly - far more concerned with its medium than with what its medium may most magnificently express.

Yet Metropolis is by far the most nearly adult picture we have seen. There are moments when it touches real greatness: in its handling of crowds, not for the sake only of spectacle, but for what emotion the movement of the crowd can express. Its architecture is beautiful, its pictorial composition frequently supurb.The clothing of a robot in human flesh provides as great a tthrill as anyone could wish; and there are two other great moments. One comes when the robot, presenting the appearance of the heroine exactly but for a subtle spiritual difference, winks at John Masterman. This gesture, which might so easily have been merely comic,has the effect of some highly dramatic, rhetorical phrase in an Elizabethan play. It tells us everything about the robot. The other moment, which passes half-unperceived, comes when No.7, the sturdy foreman of the workers, seeing them revelling amid the ruins of the machinery, recalls them to their slave-mood by a shrill whistle. This tells us everything about the workers.

The photography of Metropolis is absolutely brilliant; some of the acting is fine, particularly when it is stylized. Most of the sub-titles are quite atrocious andm any of them highly unnecessary. The one which was essential - explaining that though the robot was created to preach submisison to the workers, it in fact preached revolution - was omitted. The moral is, of course, that though man might create mechanical man,even the degree of humanity the machine possessed would endow it with that capacity for disobedience and revolt which has distinguished man since Adam.

I wonder how the audiences in cinemas in the South Wales mining districts and in Glasgow will regard this film? And whether the members of the Coal Owners' Association have been invited to see it?


{H.G. Wells, New York Times, 17 April 1927. A scathing review which reeks of personal jealousy on the part of Wells at Lang's achievement. Full of quibbling criticisms regarding the film's futuristic elements, and accusations of plagiarism and lack of originality. Issued as part of a series by Wells on war and the future.}


I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier. And as this film sets out to display the way the world is going, I think [my book] The Way the World is Going may very well concern itself with this film. It is called Metropolis, it comes from the great Ufa studios in Germany, and the public is given to understand that it has been produced at enormous cost. It gives in one eddying concentration almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general served up with a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own.

It is a German film and there have been some amazingly good German films, before they began to cultivate bad work under cover of a protective quota. And this film has been adapted to the Anglo-Saxon taste, and quite possibly it has suffered in the process, but even when every allowance has been made for that, there remains enough to convince the intelligent observer that most of its silliness must be fundamental. Possibly I dislike this soupy whirlpool none the less because I find decaying fragments of my own juvenile work of thirty years ago, The Sleeper Awakes, floating about in it. Capek's Robots have been lifted without apology, and that soulless mechanical monster of Mary Shelley's, who has fathered so many German inventions, breeds once more in this confusion. Originality there is none. Independent thought, none. Where nobody has imagined for them the authors have simply fallen back on contemporary things. The aeroplanes that wander about above the great city show no advance on contemporary types, though all that stuff could have been livened up immensely with a few helicopters and vertical or unexpected movements. The motor cars are 1926 models or earlier. I do not think there is a single new idea, a single instance of artistic creation or even intelligent anticipation, from first to last in the whole pretentious stew; I may have missed some point of novelty, but I doubt it; and this, though it must bore the intelligent man in the audience, makes the film all the more convenient as a gauge of the circle of ideas, the mentality, from which it has proceeded.

The word Metropolis, says the advertisement in English, 'is in itself symbolic of greatness'- which only shows us how wise it is to consult a dictionary before making assertions about the meaning of words. Probably it was the adapter who made that shot. The German 'Neubabelsburg' was better, and could have been rendered 'New Babel'. It is a city, we are told, of 'about one hundred years hence.' It is represented as being enormously high; and all the air and happiness are above and the workers live, as the servile toilers in the blue uniform in The Sleeper Awakes lived, down, down, down below.

Now far away in the dear old 1897 it may have been excusable to symbolize social relations in this way, but that was thirty years ago, and a lot of thinking and some experience intervene. That vertical city of the future we know now is, to put it mildly, highly improbable. Even in New York and Chicago, where the pressure on the central sites is exceptionally great, it is only the central office and entertainment region that soars and excavates. And the same centripetal pressure that leads to the utmost exploitation of site values at the centre leads also to the driving out of industrialism and labour from the population center to cheaper areas, and of residential life to more open and airy surroundings. That was all discussed and written about before 1900. Somewhere about 1930 the geniuses of Ufa studios will come up to a book of Anticipations which was written more than a quarter of a century ago. The British census returns of 1901 proved clearly that city populations were becoming centrifugal, and that every increase in horizontal traffic facilities produced a further distribution. This vertical social stratification is stale old stuff. So far from being 'a hundred years hence,' Metropolis, in its forms and shapes, is already, as a possibility, a third of a century out of date.

But its form is the least part of its staleness. This great city is supposed to be evoked by a single dominating personality. The English version calls him John Masterman, so that there may be no mistake about his quality. Very unwisely he has called his son Eric, instead of sticking to good hard John, and so relaxed the strain. He works with an inventor, one Rotwang, and they make machines. There are a certain number of other people, and the 'sons of the rich' are seen disporting themselves, with underclad ladies in a sort of joy conservatory, rather like the 'winter garden' of an enterprising 1890 hotel during an orgy. The rest of the population is in a state of abject slavery, working in 'shifts' of ten hours in some mysteriously divided twenty-four hours, and with no money to spend or property or freedom. The machines make wealth. How, is not stated. We are shown rows of motor cars all exactly alike; but the workers cannot own these, and no 'sons of the rich' would. Even the middle classes nowadays want a car with personality. Probably Masterman makes these cars in endless series to amuse himself.

One is asked to believe that these machines are engaged quite furiously in the mass production of nothing that is ever used, and that Masterman grows richer and richer in the process. This is the essential nonsense of it all. Unless the mass of the population has the spending power there is no possibility of wealth in a mechanical civilization. A vast, penniless slave population may be necessary for wealth where there are no mass production machines, but it is preposterous with mass production machines. You find such a real proletariat in China still; it existed in the great cities of the ancient world; but you do not find it in America, which has gone furtherest in the direction of mechanical industry, and there is no grain of reason in supposing it will exist in the future. Masterman's watchword is 'Efficiency,' and you are given to understand it is a very dreadful word, and the contrivers of this idiotic spectacle are so hopelessly ignorant of all the work that has been done upon industrial efficiency that they represent him as working his machine-minders to the point of exhaustion, so that they faint and machines explode and people are scalded to death. You get machine-minders in torment turning levers in response to signals - work that could be done far more effectively by automata. Much stress is laid on the fact that the workers are spiritless, hopeless drudges, working reluctantly and mechanically. But a mechanical civilization has no use for mere drudges; the more efficient its machinery the less need there is for the quasi-mechanical minder. It is the inefficient factory that needs slaves; the ill-organized mine that kills men. The hopeless drudge stage of human labour lies behind us. With a sort of malignant stupidity this film contradicts these facts.

The current tendency of economic life is to oust the mere drudge altogether, to replace much highly skilled manual work by exquisite machinery in skilled hands, and to increase the relative proportion of semi-skilled, moderately versatile and fairly comfortable workers. It may indeed create temporary masses of unemployed, and in The Sleeper Awakes there was a mass of unemployed people under the hatches. That was written in 1897, when the possibility of restraining the growth of large masses of population had scarcely dawned on the world. It was reasonable then to anticipate an embarrassing underworld of under-productive people. We did not know what to do with the abyss. But there is no excuse for that today. And what this film anticipates is not unemployment, but drudge employment, which is precisely what is passing away. Its fabricators have not even realized that the machine ousts the drudge.

'Efficiency' means large-scale productions, machinery as fully developed as possible, and high wages. The British Government delegation sent to study success in America has reported unanimously to that effect. The increasingly efficient industrialism of America has so little need of drudges that it has set up the severest barriers against the flooding of the United States by drudge immigration. 'Ufa' knows nothing of such facts.

A young woman appears from nowhere in particular to 'help' these drudges; she impinges upon Masterman's son Eric, and they go to the 'Catacombs,' which, in spite of the gas mains, steam mains, cables, and drainage, have somehow contrived to get over from Rome, skeletons and all, and burrow under this city of Metropolis. She conducts a sort of Christian worship in these unaccountable caverns, and the drudges love and trust her. With a nice sense of fitness she lights herself about the Catacombs with a torch instead of the electric lamps that are now so common.

That reversion to torches is quite typical of the spirit of this show. Torches are Christian, we are asked to suppose; torches are human. Torches have hearts. But electric hand-lamps are wicked, mechanical, heartless things. The bad, bad inventor uses quite a big one. Mary's services are unsectarian, rather like afternoon Sunday-school, and in her special catacomb she has not so much an altar as a kind of umbrella-stand full of crosses. The leading idea of her religion seems to be a disapproval of machinery and efficiency. She enforces the great moral lesson that the bolder and stouter human effort becomes, the more spiteful Heaven grows, by reciting the story of Babel. The story of Babel, as we know, is a lesson against 'Pride.' It teaches the human soul to grovel. It inculcates the duty of incompetence. The Tower of Babel was built, it seems, by bald-headed men. I said there was no original touch in the film, but this last seems to be a real invention. You see the bald-headed men building Babel. Myriads of them. Why they are bald is inexplicable. It is not even meant to be funny, and it isn't funny; it is just another touch of silliness. The workers in Metropolis are not to rebel or do anything for themselves, she teaches, because they may rely on the vindictiveness of Heaven.

But Rotwang, the inventor, is making a Robot, apparently without any license from Capek, the original patentee. It is to look and work like a human being, but it is to have no 'soul.' It is to be a substitute for drudge labour. Masterman very properly suggests that it should never have a soul, and for the life of me I cannot see why it should. The whole aim of mechanical civilization is to eliminate the drudge and the drudge soul. But this is evidently regarded as very dreadful and impressive by the producers, who are all on the side of soul and love and suchlike. I am surprised they do not pine for souls in the alarm clocks and runabouts. Masterman, still unwilling to leave bad alone, persuades Rotwang to make this Robot in the likeness of Mary, so that it may raise an insurrection among the workers to destroy the machines by which they live, and so learn that it is necessary to work. Rather intricate that, but Masterman, you understand, is a rare devil of a man. Full of pride and efficiency and modernity - all those horrid things.

Then comes the crowning absurdity of the film, the conversion of the Robot into the likeness of Mary. Rotwang, you must understand, occupies a small old house, embedded in the modern city, richly adorned with pentagrams and other reminders of the antiquated German romances out of which its owner has been taken. A quaint smell of Mephistopheles is perceptible for a time. So even at Ufa, Germany can still be dear old magic-loving Germany. Perhaps Germans will never get right away from the Brocken. Walpurgis Night is the name-day of the German poetic imagination, and the national fantasy capers insecurely for ever with a broomstick between its legs. By some no doubt abominable means Rotwang has squeezed a vast and well-equipped modern laboratory into this little house. It is ever so much bigger than the house, but no doubt he has fallen back on Einstein and other modern bedevilments. Mary has to be trapped, put into a machine like a translucent cocktail shaker, and undergo all sorts of pyrotechnic treatment in order that her likeness may be transferred to the Robot. The possibility of Rotwang just simply making a Robot like her, evidently never entered the gifted producer's head. The Robot is enveloped in wavering haloes, the premises seem to be struck by lightning repeatedly, the contents of a number of flasks and carboys are violently agitated, there are minor explosions and discharges. Rotwang conducts the operations with a manifest lack of assurance, and finally, to his evident relief, the likeness is taken and things calm down. The false Mary then winks darkly at the audience and sails off to raise the workers. And so forth and so on. There is some rather good swishing about in water, after the best film traditions, some violent and unconvincing machine-breaking and rioting and wreckage, and then, rather confusedly, one gathers that Masterman has learnt a lesson, and that workers and employers are now to be reconciled by 'Love.'

Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities. The film's air of having something grave and wonderful to say is transparent pretence. It has nothing to do with any social or moral issue before the world or with any that can ever conceivably arise. It is bunkum and poor and thin even as bunkum. I am astonished at the toleration shown it by quite a number of film critics on both sides of the Atlantic. And it costs, says the London Times, six million marks! How they spent all that upon it I cannot imagine. Most of the effects could have been got with models at no great expense.

The pity of it is that this unimaginative, incoherent, sentimentalizing, and make-believe film, wastes some very fine possibilities. My belief in German enterprise has had a shock. I am dismayed by the intellectual laziness it betrays. I thought Germans even at the worst could toil. I thought they had resolved to be industriously modern. It is profoundly interesting to speculate upon the present trend of mechanical inventions and of the reactions of invention upon labour conditions. Instead of plagiarizing from a book thirty years old and resuscitating the banal moralizing of the early Victorian period, it would have been almost as easy, no more costly, and far more interesting to have taken some pains to gather the opinions of a few bright young research students and ambitious, modernizing architects and engineers about the trend of modern invention, and develop these artistically. Any technical school would have been delighted to supply sketches and suggestions for the aviation and transport of A.D. 2027. There are now masses of literature upon the organization of labour for efficiency that could have been boiled down at a very small cost. The question of the development of industrial control, the relation of industrial to political direction, the way all that is going, is of the liveliest current interest. Apparently the people at Ufa did not know of these things and did not want to know about them. They were too dense to see how these things could have been brought into touch with the life of today and made interesting to the man in the street. After the worst traditions of the cinema world, monstrously self-satisfied and self-sufficient, convinced of the power of loud advertisement to put things over with the public, and with no fear of searching criticism in their minds, no consciousness of thought and knowledge beyond their ken, they set to work in their huge studio to produce furlong after furlong of this ignorant, old-fashioned balderdash, and ruin the market for any better film along these lines.

Six million marks! The waste of it!

The theatre when I visited it was crowded. All but the highest-priced seats were full, and the gaps in these filled up reluctantly but completely before the great film began. I suppose every one had come to see what the city of a hundred years hence would be like. I suppose there are multitudes of people to be 'drawn' by promising to show them what the city of a hundred years hence will be like. It was, I thought, an unresponsive audience, and I heard no comments. I could not tell from their bearing whether they believed that Metropolis was really a possible forecast or no. I do not know whether they thought that the film was hopelessly silly or the future of mankind hopelessly silly. But it must have been one thing or the other.


{Robert Herring, 'Metropolis', London Mercury, 16 May 1927. Critical review, bemoaning the cuts made by Pollock, and the effect they have on the film's continuity. Herring is also dismissive of the central 'Heart as Mediator' theme.}

Metropolis. Marble Arch Pavilion

It is astonishing how clever we can be, especially if [missing images from the film] are thoughtfully included in the programme. How easy it is to detect when a film has been cut! For it cannot be that we are growing intelligent. If we were, we should not urge the cuts as an excuse for our disappointment. Would Metropolis have been very much better had we seen all the sotry of this 'greatest of ultra-modern film spectacles' - had it even been logically connected? I doubt it. Ignorance of a story whose climax is 'Heart must mediate between the brains and muscle' can only be called bliss, and from such of the main conception as we could glimpse I think it is possible to say that that conception was one-sided and half thought-out.

Life is represented a hundred years hence, but there is little attempt to foresee the changes in any but superficial details. Even these are not consistent, for while television goes on in one room, doctors use that new invention, the thermometer, in another. The famous heart-machine is not much more than an enlarged accumulator, and means of locomotion are much the same. The future is disappointing; one has, apparently, to run rather more than usual. Not only down streets, in crowds, but singly through catacombs and even from door to door in the same room. Eric had need of that race at the beginning, to keep him fit, and as for his fight with the inventor on the cathedral roof - he saw that in a twentieth-century film. The fight lost its terror for me because I had always been told pulverising rays would be more common than telephones.

Very little is gained by the machines, for they need hordes to work them - such hordes that the lifts do not go down very well. A twentieth-centry car, whatever its horsepower, needs only one man to drive it, but a twenty-first century machine seems to need something of its equivalent manpower for its management. It is sensationalism, not art, that stresses the time period when what is offered amounts to tall buildings, a tin woman and some elaborate but unexplained machinery.

Metropolis itself looks like a nest of magnified matchboxes and was not so impressive as a Stilton full of maggots. It was run by one John Masterman, dressed like a draper (fashions, even courtesans', have not changed); he seemed to spend all day in his office - perhaps forced to it through the paucity of amusements, as illustrated by those offered the sons of the rich. Very little life seemed to go on upstairs in Metropolis. Old Rotwang worked away in a laboratory more intricate but less significant than the artifical light-ward of a hospital, and Masterman worked in his office. Who else lived within the many towers and walls we never saw. Eugenics can hardly explain there being only sons for the rich: these sons had to sport with last-century cabaret girls.

Masterman's own bondage and the incongruity of the hordes of workmen below may have been intended, but the contrast did not come 'across.' The film, as shown, lacked balance,and that was as near as we got to it. Metropolis itself we were asked to consider by itself, for itself. Had any other faculty but the eye been engaged it would not have been possible to ask where were other cities of the future and what the relationshipwas. The horded houses and the chasms were no more appalling than Regent Street from a bus or Tottenham Court Road tube-station from the escalator, and as to making felt the lifeless treading out of lives, Hindle Wakes was a better example.

The story on which all this elaboration was expended tells how the son of this man, who has enslaved thousands to his will, sees by chance the conditions of their work. He also meets a girl of the people, who is intent on a mission of goodwill and patience. She tells stories of babel tower that are no more convincing than the pictures of that edifice. Eric, the son, begs for more humanity from his father, who replies by substituting for the girl a Robot exactly like her. This creature is made to counsel the workers to a revolt by which they are undone, because the machines, when smashed, let loose a flood upon their homes. The children are in danger of drowning. But Eric, running about, and the girl, till then locked up, rush down and save them. The Robot is burnt, its inventor killed, and Eric, joining the hand of his father with that of a worker, makes his observations concerning the place of the heart in human affairs. It sohappens that the worker he chooses is the very one who has been mediating with Masterman all through, supplying plans and saying 'Here are the papers' in the best spy manner. But Youth, bright Youth, is too high-minded, or Mr. Pollock is too high-handed to notice this. Mr. Pollock will be remembered for a very aptly-named play, The Fool, and he has edited the film. It must have been great fun for him, but he should not have got carried away.

If the city was not convincing, however, the machinery was and the best pictures were all to do with it; the first accident, the smashing of the lifts, the emerging of the Robot from the electric rings. Nevertheless, it is a great deal to make of what the English language allows us to call, not a Herz-machine, but a power-plant. The photography was good - as usual; and as usual one longed to see it worthily employed. The lighting of the two regions was well contrasted, the grouping the most impressive thing and the acting, particularly of Brigitte Helm, worth the time spent on it.

I shall be told that I missed the point and did not go in the right spirit. But "Let me live long enough to see Metropolis" had been my nightly prayer for weeks; and with the best will in the world, I was unable to feel any thing other than that my eye was glutted and my imagination starved; those with no eyes were, perhaps, not aware of discomfort. After all this portentousness, a sign that films are beginning to see the joke of themselves was doubly welcome..... [Goes on to review another film]


{Anon., 'Metropolis', Unidentified newspaper clipping, London, circa May 1927.}

Metropolis - Marble Arch Pavilion

An UFA Film - Produced by Fritz Lang

The fear of machines and of what they represent is one from which no modern community can easily escape. They aappear as the enemies of craftsmanship and individuality; they are recognised by many as the symbols of a process of standardization which may extend, and is perhaps extending, ffrom things to men. Is there not, it is asked, proof of this tendency in the mechanical routine by which so much of industrial life is governed? Is there not nearer proof in the faces of passers-by in great cities, in men's increasing willingness to act and think in crowds, in the great depopulation of the countryside, and the flow of all humanity towards the sources of mechanical power? Are not the machines already asserting their mastery? That is the contemporary nightmare, and no artistic representation of it, in whatever form, can fail to produce an impression on the audiences that attend it.

Mr. Fritz Lang has, with great frankness, treated his subject as a nightmare in this picture of Metropolis, a city of the future,, and the faults that exist in his work appear precisely at those points where, abandoning nightmare, he has asked for reasoned belief as distinct from emotional response. Considered as a representation of what might be, Metropolis is full of inconsistencies and absurdities which make acceptance of it impossible, and when, on a foundation of reason so unsure, an attempt is made to suggest a reasoned moral, the result is damaging and pretentious.

"The Mediator between Brain and Muscle," says the screen, "must be the Heart" - and that, if you please, is the simple, practicable way out of our present discontent. The proof of it is to be sought in the failure of a violent revolution by the workers of Metropolis and in the entirely satisfactory kisses bestowed on Mary, a worker's daughter, by Eric, a rich man's son. At all this there is nothing to do but smile. Even as propaganda it is remarkably ineffective. It is, indeed, a necessary preliminary to enjoyment of the film's great merits to forget its supposed teaching, to look on its sotry as an essay in fantastic sensationalism, and yield to what we may be pardoned for calling its psychological photography.

Mr. Lang is concerned chiefly with men in masses. Eric and Mary have as much individual interest as most characters in a "thriller," and the parts are played with energy and competence by Mr. Gustav Frolich and Miss Brigitte Helm. Other parts are, within the same narrow limits, played as well. But the true emphasis of the film lies, not on the individual players or the personal story they unfold, but on the scenes in which, by a kind of massed attack, the producer seeks to capture the emotions of his spectators. In Metropolis the workers inhabit their own underground city, and are carried from the machines in lifts. But they do not leave their work or enter the lifts with any appearance of release and freedom. They march in closely-packed blocks, swaying with a dull, heavy, mechanical rhythm that brilliantly suggests the burden of hopelessness and monotony that has crushed the manhood in them.

When a scientist makes a "robot" in the exact image of a woman, the cold evil of the experiment is communicated in a patterned accumulation of scientific instruments which seems to contain a menace proper to themselves, and most remarkably, render the scientist who operates them, relatively insignificant in the watcher's mind. When the workers rise in open rebellion and wreck the machines, their underground city is flooded and the life of their children threatened. And once more Mr. Lang succeeds in compelling you to share, rather than observe, the picture's action. You do not watch the children's panic; you seem, while it lasts, to be caught up in it, for not only the effect of fear, but fear itself, is representing in the swaying lights, the changing angles, the swift hallucinations of the photography.

Here, under the control of Mr. Freund and Mr. Rittau, the camera has been used as it has seldom been used before. When hte method is applied to individuals - for example, to Eric Masterman, whose eagerness to save the heroine leads him into running a perpetual race at a speed undreamed of by sprinters - it is apt to make those individuals appear absurd; but there is no doubting the skill of its application to collective movement. The film has, in consequence, a remarkable pictorial power, and, in spite of its occasional solemnities, is one which will well repay study by those who are interested in the development of a seperate cinematographic technique. When it imitates the stage it often fails; but, when it remains on its own territory, it proves how wide are the boundaries of that territory and how little they have hitherto been explored.


{Welford Beaton, 'Metropolis', The Film Spectator, Hollywood, 3 September 1927.}


Only those who view with pessimism the fate of the human race can derive satisfaction from Metropolis as a piece of fiction, but those who are pessimistic regarding the development of the screen must become optimistic when they view it. It is an extraordinary motion picture, in some ways the most extraordinary ever made. One must admire the minds that conceived it and brought it into being. Erich Pommer, the supervisor [producer], and Fritz Lang, the director, are raised to a new dignity in screen art by this production, the former for his magnitude of conception, the latter for his screen interpretation of the conception. It was a brave thing to undertake for it was an adventure into the realm of fiction that it is hazardous to exploit. I have my own ideas regarding the trend of civilization and the state it will have reached when our great-great-grandchildren are adults. You also have your opinion. No doubt it differs from mine. Erich Pommer has his and it may differ from your and mine. He puts his in a picture and asks you and me to accept it. I, for one, will do no such thing.

I refuse to believe that a century hence workingmen will be slaves who live underground. If Pommer wishes to produce a story laid in a mythical country, and shoed me bullfrogs driving rabbits tandem, I would not quarrel with him, for it is his own mythical country and I must accept all that his brain peoples it with; but when he says, "This is what your descendents will be doing one or two hundred years hence," I refuse to follow him, for definite knowledge on the matter being unobtainable. I do not see why I should dismiss my own opinions and accept his.

The whole trend of civilization is in a direction opposite to that which Metropolis takes, which makes the picture nevertheless entertaining, for at least it stimulates discussion. I do not believe that we ever will advance to a time when capital concerns itself with laborers as individuals whose bodily comforts and domestic welfare are of major importance to it from a sociological standpoint; but I do not believe for a moment that it will forget that it can realize upon its investment in labor only in the degree that the laborer is efficient. In Metropolis we have laborers reduced to the lowest point of efficiency.

The improvement in transportation makes reasonable the prediction that in another century or so men will live hundreds of miles from the scenes of their daily occupations. This will tend to spread the population over great areas and give each man his quota of sunshine and garden. Metropolis assumes that civilization will burrow below the surface of the earth and that men will become clammy things with colorless skin and white eyes. It assumes also that men will work long hours, in spite of the fact that the tendency toward shorter hours is marked. None of the things that Metropolis says time will do to society seem reasonable to me. Capital never will make slaves of workingmen because it is not good business to do so. For all these reasons I could derive no satisfaction from following the story of the picture. But as a picture I found it fascinating. Lets us consider it purely as a picture and not as a piece of literature.

Metropolis was made to be released in twelve reels. Such was the footage in which the whole story was told. All the intimate phases of the story, the development of the love of the boy for the girl, the views of the home life, and the social existence of the characters were sacrificed to production when five reels were eliminated from the original film to bring it down to the standard seven-reel film length. I believe that the American version would have been a much better picture if the human element had not been reduced so greatly. When Channing Pollock revised the film to make it fit our conditions - a job that brought him twenty thousand dollars and his name in gigantic letters on the screen - no doubt he was persuaded by Paramount's salesmen that production was what the picture craved, consequently he eliminated everything that would have given the story plausibility.

Lang's direction reveals more aptitude for movement than for acting. All his mass shots and those in which the machinery was featured were handled in a manner that shows that Lang is a master in the treatment of such subjects, but when he directed his actors he was not so much at home. The father gives a convincing performance, in a quiet, repressed way that makes the portrayal a powerful one. The son overacts all the way through, and gives a performance that entirely lacks conviction. Apparently the director allowed his actors to give their individual conceptions of the characters, without regard for their relation to one another. Metropolis is rather an argument for dual direction. If Lang's efforts with the material aspects of the production had been supplemented with a Lubitsch's skill at making the characters human we would have had a better picture, although the story mitigates against it being a perfect one.

When Ufa made Metropolis it did not arbitrarily place its time one thousand years hence. As I understand it, Erich Pommer's idea was to depict life one or two centuries hence. Paramount's press agents, with their usual flair for exaggeration, made it ten centuries, thereby preparing the public for something more weird than it received. Technically, the picture is a revelation of what can be done with models and a camera. The scenes of city life, airplanes passing among buildings, taxicabs dashing along elevated streets, pedestrians moving along sidewalks, were done so realistically that they must astonish anyone who is not familiar with the manner in which such things are done. It will interest Hollywood to know that these scenes were shot as we shoot our cartoon comedies - cardboard cutouts being advanced after each shot. It cost less to shoot the scenes by this method than it would have to have used moving models, even though it took no less than nine months to complete them.

The most striking shots in the picture were those showing the illuminated rings passing up and down around the dummy to which the face and form of the girl were being transferred. I have no idea how it was done. Another effective shot was that showing several columns of people converging on the tower of Babel. It gives the impression that many thousands of people were used. If you looked closely, however, you can detect evidences of it being a divided shot, or whatever it is called - the same bunch of people shot half a dozen times.

No matter what degree of entertainment you derive from Metropolis you must give it credit for being a great intellectual feat as well as an example of the extraordinary possibilities of the screen. It is to be hoped that some day Erich Pommer will find himself so situated in Hollywood that he can attempt something else equally daring and ambitious.


{Luis Buñuel, 'Metropolis', Gazeta Literaia de Madrid, 1927-8. Eloquent review of the film by a fellow filmmaker, with both positive and negative comments}


Metropolis is not one film, Metropolis is two films joined by the belly, but with divergent, indeed extremely antagonistic, spiritual needs. Those who consider the cinema as a discreet teller of tales, will suffer profound disillusion with Metropolis. What it tells us is trivial, pretentious, pedantic, hackneyed romanticism. But if we put before the story the plastic-photogenic basis of the film, then Metropolis will come up to any standards, will overwhelm us as the most marvelous picture book imaginable. Imaging, then, two antipodean elements held under the same sign, in the zones of our sensibility. The first of them, which we might call pure-lyrical, is excellent; the other, the anecdotal or human, is ultimately irritating. Both, simultaneously, successively, compose the latest creation of Fritz Lang. It is not the first time that we have noted such a disconcerting dualism in the works of Fritz Lang. For example: in the ineffable poem Destiny are interpolated disastrous scenes of a refined bad taste. Even though we must admit that Fritz Lang is an accomplice, we hereby denounce as the presumed author of these eclectic essays and of this hazardous syncretism his wife, the scenarist Thea von Harbou.

A film, like a cathedral, should be anonymous. People of all classes, artists of all kinds have contributed to raising this monstrous cathedral of the modern cinema. All trades, all the engineers, crowds, actors, writers; Karl Freund, the ace of German cameramen with a pleiade of collaborators, Ruttmann, creator of the 'absolute' film. At the head of the architects is the name of Otto Hunte: it is to him and to Ruttmann in fact that we owe the most striking visualizations in Metropolis. The scenist artist, last of the theatre's legacies to the cinema, scarcely plays a part here. We sense his hand only in the worst of Metropolis, in the emphatically named 'eternal gardens' with their lunatic baroque and striking bad taste. The architect will henceforth forever replace the set designer. The cinema will be the faithful interpreter of the architect's boldest dreams.

In Metropolis the clock has only ten hours, which are those of work, and the life of the whole inner city moves to this compass of two times. The free men of Metropolis tyrannize the workers, nibelungs of the city, who work in an endless electric day in the depths of the earth. All that is lacking is the simplest gearing of the Republic, the heart, the sentiment that is able to unite such extremes. And in the dénouement we see the son of the director of Metropolis (Heart) unite in an eternal embrace his father (Head) and the general overseer (the Arm). Mix these symbolic ingredients with a good dose of bloodcurdling scenes, with stylized theatrical playing. Shake the mixture well and we have arrived at the content of Metropolis.

Yet on the other hand ... What a captivating symphony of movement! How the engines sing amidst wonderful transparent triumphal arches formed by electric charges! All the glass shops in the world romantically melted into reflected light could nestle over the modern canon of the cinema. Every most furious glint of swords, the rhythmic succession of wheels, pistons, of uncreated mechanical forms is an admirable ode, a new poetry to our eyes. Physics and chemistry are miraculously transformed into rhythm. Not a moment of retardation. Even the titles, already rising and falling, revolving, hazy, melting by and by in light or disintegrating into shadows, unite in the general movement and themselves become images.

In our judgement the capital defect of the film rests in the author's failure to follow the line shaped by Eisenstein in Potemkin, which presented us with one actor alone, but full of novelties and possibilities: the mass. The matter of Metropolis calls for it. But instead we suffer a series of characters, full of arbitrary and vulgar passions, charged with a symbolism to which they in no way respond. This is not to say that there are no crowds in Metropolis; but they seem to respond more to a decorative need, to a gigantic ballet; they aim to delight us with their admirable and admired movement rather than to show us their soul, their exact obedience to more human, more objective motives. Even so there are moments - Babel, the workers' revolution, the final persecution of the automaton - in which both extremes are admirably accomplished.

Otto Hunte astounds us with his vision of the city of the year 2000. It might be mistaken, even antiquated in relation to the latest theories about the city of the future, but, from the photogenic point of view, its emotive force, its remarkable and surprising beauty are unparalleled; of such technical perfection that it can be studied minutely without recognizing the maquette.

Metropolis cost ten million gold marks to make; with actors and extras, some 40,000 people took part in the production. The actual length of film is 5,000 metres, but some two million metres were shot. The day of its premiere in Berlin stalls cost eighty gold marks each. Is it not demoralizing, taking into account such extraordinary resources, that the film did not turn out a model of perfection? From a comparison of Metropolis and Napoleon, the two biggest films which the modern cinema has produced, with other much humbler but also more perfect and purer works, comes the useful lesson that money is not the essential of modern cinema production. Compare Rien que les heures, which cost a mere 35,000 francs, and Metropolis. Sensitivity, paramount; intelligence, paramount, and everything else, including money, comes after.


Last updated: 28 April 2000

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